By Jared Solis
While students commute by shuttle throughout the day to and from the Finesilver parking lot, a war is being waged around, above and between their cars.
The battle of wills taking place begins as early as 3 o’clock in the morning and can continue until dusk.
The fight is between a mysterious man in a white truck underneath the overpass and an elderly lady who lives down the street.
What could these unlikely warriors be fighting over? They both feed the pigeons; the problem is they do it for entirely different reasons.
Kenneth Ricks drives in on his white pickup with a black antenna shooting toward the sky and sometimes with a flatbed trailer carrying neatly stacked crates.
He parks close to Quincy Street and begins to pour bird feed on the black asphalt. It doesn’t take long for pigeons to flock toward the feast.
He does this for days so they will get used to him, Ricks said. He drives his truck to the other end of the lot and silently watches them eat.
Soon, when the time is right, he will go back while they eat and shoot a net over them with an instrument used for bird-catching.
He doesn’t catch all of them, he said.
But one particular day, he caught about 20 pigeons, placed them in the crates stacked on the flatbed and drove away.
Ricks works for his father’s pest control company, Ricks & Sons, which he claims has a contract with the city to dispose of the pigeons from the parking lot because their droppings create a hazard.
That’s not all he claims.
“They go all over the bus benches, and the acid from it eats through the concrete,” Ricks said.
He sits in his truck in the dark corner of the parking lot because he is keeping watch for the bird lady, Ricks said.
Her name is Fidelina Gonzalez, and while Ricks supposedly is trying to get rid of the pigeons nesting at the Finesilver lot, Gonzalez keeps bringing them back, feeding them at about 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m.
A native of Guatemala, Gonzalez has been here for more than 20 years, and for more than 20 years, she has faithfully been feeding the pigeons.
As a custodial worker at Trinity University, her budget is tight and it is expensive for her to buy bird feed every week from H.E.B., she said in broken English.
“I’m buying now, 130 pounds because it’s on special now,” Gonzalez said. “If the price is cheap, I’ll buy another one on Thursday because it’s not enough for the week.”
Every day, she limps to the lot with bird feed and a tray of water for the pigeons to drink and bathe in.
Gonzalez is aware of Ricks.
“He’s taking the birds. He’s going to sell them to eat them,” Gonzalez said.
Ricks said he takes the pigeons to a bird sanctuary in Houston where he sells them for $4.50 each.
This financial return is on top of the contract that Ricks & Sons has with the city, Ricks said.
He concedes that he sells the pigeons not only to pet stores, but also to Chinese restaurants willing to purchase them for about the same price as the bird sanctuary.
He draws the line at selling the birds for pigeon shoots as other bird catchers do, Ricks said.
The two have not been without confrontation.
“I talked to that man last week,” Gonzalez said, “and I told him, ‘don’t touch them’ because they are going to eat them.”
Ricks claims that Gonzalez has physically prevented him from carrying out his duties.
“She actually stood on top of my net as I was trying to catch them,” Ricks said.
Several times, the police became involved, though it is unclear who called them.
“They call the police and they leave the birds under the net, and they wait for the police, and I go to my house, and I don’t know what happened.”
Ricks believes the police side with him on the issue. “They don’t want them here, either,” Ricks said. “Because they (leave droppings) everywhere. People can’t sit on the bus benches.”
Soon Ricks may get a reprieve from the bird lady. High rent and poor conditions are forcing her to move to a building for senior citizens that is less expensive but may be far away from the Finesilver lot.
She laments, “Who is coming to feed them when I am moving?”
Ricks, however, may not have free reign over the parking lot, either.
The phone number he gave to his company, Ricks & Sons, proved to be a wrong number.
The company cannot be found online or listed in the phone book.
Ricks said that the net he catches the pigeons with does not hurt them, but he also does not remember the name of the bird sanctuary in Houston.
Leonard Mechler, San Antonio Health Department division chief, said he knows of no contract regarding any bird catchers.
“He doesn’t have a contract with us. I can tell you that,” Mechler said. “He may have a contract with the parking division.”
When questioned about a contract, Asset Management Parking Division assistant manager Carl Storlie said a request to catch pigeons at the Finesilver lot was denied about nine months ago.
“If he has a contract with the city, it is not with us because we’re trying to find him and run him off,” Storlie said.
“The bottom line is, we don’t want him out there doing it, and every time we see him out there doing it, we chase him off.” Storlie could not verify Ricks was the man chased away.
The shuttles from the Finesilver lot will be ending in January upon completion of the new parking garage, Tim Rockey, chair of the Parking Committee, said.
He also said that he has not heard of any complaints about pigeon droppings. “That’s a new one for me,” Rockey said.
As for Gonzalez, she hopes to be able to take her pets with her when she moves, which are kittens, ironically.
When questioned as to why she feeds the pigeons, her answer was simple. “Because they are hungry.”